My dad had just called me over to his and mom’s place. They must have moved back to Tennessee, because it was in one of those cookie cutter-looking Spring Hill or Thompson Station subdivisions. They were in a white, two-story house basically shaped like a box.I pulled up, the road was long, winding, and endless, as it slithered all the way up a very gradual hill as houses lined only one side of it. The side to my left was just a field of grass and sunshine.
The front door was open, and my dad pushed open the storm dor and approached me. He had a couch outside, across the house on the other side of the street. He sat on it and wasted no time.
“Do you have a way that I can get stronger without having to waste all my time up at the gym?”
“What are you talking about?,” I asked him, completely puzzled.
“I want to get stronger again, kind of like how I was a few years ago when I was working out, but I don’t want to have to spend all that time lifting weights.”
“I don’t understand”
I had sat beside him on the couch. He stood up and faced me.
“I can’t. I can’t spend that time, but I need it to be as if I have.”
“Dad,” I paused as I calculated my words, “if there is anything you taught me, it is that you can’t just take any shortcuts. You have to put in the work, in fact, you should put in the work. I don’t see why you can’t just get a cheap gym membership and go up there for an hour a day.,” I scratched my head, then the calculations kept coming out, “It’ll be good for you! I’ll even pay for it.”
He looked pretty disappointed; much in the way a little kid does when he concedes to being told ‘no’.
“No. That’s not going to work,” he started walking toward the house, but abruptly stopped and paused for a few moments.
I could sense a massive shift in his demeanor. I stayed quiet and let him say what he was going to say.
“Why didn’t you like— why didn’t you tell us you didn’t like, I mean, what didn’t you like about,” the next few words were unintelligible, either as a result of bad hearing, him mumbling it, or the dream obscuring it. I didn’t understand it, but in the dream, I had understood it enough to reply.
I looked down for several moments and replied without looking up at him.
“I just didn’t. Sometimes you don’t. I’m sorry.”
He walked inside the house.
I saw alone on this couch outside, and tried to digest what was going on. There was a warm breeze lightly caressing my body, and it must have been late afternoon by the way the sun was starting to gently gleam over the landscape. I wondered where mom was, and if I’d get to see her too, today.
Dad came back. He was carrying a bowl. He was beaming.
“I’ve got it!,” he exclaimed.
“What is that?,” I somehow knew before I asked, “Steroids?!”
He affirmed, as he showed me the porcelain, grooved serving bowl in his hands filled with peanuts, cashews, and those fatter, twisted stick pretzels.
“Got mom to get me these from her work, want some?”
I was not happy about this.
“Come on dad, this isn’t a good idea. Why are you doing this?”
“I’ve got to get stronger son,” he told me as he chewed on a pretzel-turned-steroid with his mouth open.
I was a spectator at this point. So I watched him eat it, but when he finished one, he threw in a couple of the nuts and kept chowing down.
“Hey, dad, I don’t think you should eat anymore. One a day is more than enough, I mean, just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean you take 6 ibpruofen to make it go away quicker. It doesn’t work like that.”
His following rationalization was that sometimes a doctor has to give a higher dosage to someone that needs it.
“Here, have some, it’s not going to kill you.”
I was curious as to if they were actually steroids, so I took a few and ate them. Excited from the prospect of gaining strength like he wanted, he had started doing one of the things he does best, rambling, so I let the old man ramble.
“Sometimes that’s why I think–” he paused mid sentence, likely to collect his thought. The pause was longer than usual, and I turned to him on the couch.
As I did, I could see his chewing had slowed down until it froze. He was staring forward into space as the bowl broke free from his weakened grip. As it was slipping out of his hands, he slowly tipped over until he rocked over the side of the couch and on his side on the end table.
He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t doing anything.
Paralyzed and shocked, I broke out of my reactionary chains and ran up and grabbed him. I was shaking him rather violently.
“Dad! Dad!,” I could see my tears landing on his face and glasses, “DAD! Hang in there!”
I fumbled around trying to grab my phone while holding on to him. He was still completely motionless. I couldn’t think of what to do, for a moment I thought about trying to stick my hand down his mouth and hope he would gag out the food he just ate, but he seemed too shut down for that. So instead I hugged my dad tighter as my wrapped arms dialed 911 behind his head.
I wasn’t sure that the paramedics could do anything, but all I wanted to do was believe that they could. The phone was dialing.
“Hello?,” it was my mom who picked up on the other line.
“Mom?!,” brain freeze, of course, “mom! Dad! He.. call 9–”
“I just got done talking to them son, they are on there way.”
“Mom! Where are you? Come out here! Help! Dad, he’s going to–,” she cut me off a second time.
“He’s been dead for years,” she wasn’t referring to his living, physical body, but the gravity of what she said was just the same.
It was the most heartbreaking thing I’d ever been told. I didn’t know what to say. I wondered a lot of things. Was he just poisoned? Should I tell her that I ate some, too? Did any of these details matter with what else was going on? I couldn’t handle anymore of that moment, and I had been broken more than enough.
I felt myself getting sucked out, and I gladly let it happen. I woke up.
That was a terrible beginning to my day.